Wisconsin police kill knife-wielding man who family says suffered from mental illness

Federal and local law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin are investigating.

July 3, 2020, 4:54 PM

The police-involved shooting death of a "known" mentally ill Sheboygan, Wisconsin, man, who authorities say was holding two knives, could have been avoided, his family says.

When a police officer, who was employed with the Sheboygan Police Department for almost three years, responded to a call of a disturbance around 6 a.m. on Thursday between a man and a woman, officials said it "ended with the loss of life."

Police have not identified the man, but family told ABC News affiliate WISN, the shooting victim was Kevin Ruffin. His uncle Aaron Clayborn told WISN that his nephew suffers from mental illness and the officers in the town "are familiar with him."

"He is known in this community for several years for having a mental disorder. He's been in and out of the system. He's been in mental health facilities in the state," said Clayborn on Thursday.

PHOTO: Protesters march on North 15th St. near where Kevan Ruffin was killed by Sheboygan Police, July 2, 2020, in Sheboygan, Wis.
Protesters march on North 15th St. near where Kevan Ruffin was killed by Sheboygan Police, July 2, 2020, in Sheboygan, Wis.
Gary C. Klein/USA Today Network

Police did not respond to further request for comment.

While it's unclear if the unidentified responding officer was aware of Ruffin's history with law enforcement, police said there was an attempt to engage in a conversation with the man before shots were fired.

Sheboygan Police Chief Christopher Domagalski said as Ruffin allegedly "charged at the officer with two dangerous weapons," the officer displayed his stun gun while "retreating backwards."

Law enforcement officials did not indicate if any weapons were recovered from the scene.

"The officer ordered the subject to stop while attempting to retreat while attempting to deploy his Taser. The subject continued to chase the officer, forcing the officer to transition to his firearm and discharged his firearm on the subject," said Domnagalski at a press conference on Thursday.

The 23-year-old man was pronounced dead on the scene and the responding officer was placed on administrative leave per department policy, said the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigation in a press release.

Ruffin's cousin Sheriyah Appleton questioned the training the officer received on how to handle people with mental health issues, especially someone that's a person of color.

"You don't come to somebody who is mentally ill with your guns drawn in the first place, that's not how you do things," Appleton said to ABC News affiliate WISN.

Appleton says the officer's actions with her cousin, who is Black, is "why the whole world is in unrest."

Protest have sparked around the world after the police-involved death of George Floyd which was captured on a bystander's cellphone. Floyd's killing resulted in the arrest of four former Minneapolis police officers and started a wave of proposed police reform across the country and world.

"We are a threat because the color of our skin. Now if he had to have been white with mental issues, he would have been taken into custody and not taken to the morgue. It's a whole different story because of the color of our skin," said Appleton.

An investigation into the shooting is being conducted by state and federal agencies in Wisconsin.